Beloved Valley institution Macayo's Mexican Kitchen looks back on 70 years as its flagship location gets a revamp across the street.

Mexi-Makeover

Written by Austen Browne Category: History Issue: October 2016
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When Woody Johnson and his wife Victoria opened their modest Mexican eatery Woody’s El Nido in Phoenix in 1946, they had no idea it would become a popular local chain and stand the test of time for 70 years. Johnson’s decision to pursue the culinary arts was sudden – morphing from a long-time interest in engineering – but he made it work and never looked back.

Johnson’s secret? Steely determination and complete dedication to his craft, according to family members.

“He would work on the recipes nonstop until he got them right,” says Sharisse Johnson, daughter of Woody and Victoria and current CEO of Macayo’s Restaurants LLC. “He learned a lot over the years. He was the kind of guy that didn’t stop until something was perfected.”

The original Macayo’s made its debut at the iconic Central Avenue location in Phoenix in 1952. Soon after, business started booming and customers swarmed from all over the Valley for a taste of Woody’s authentic Mexican dishes. The  grand opening was only the beginning; now the beloved restaurant has more than 1,100 employees and has branched out into 14 locations, including two in Las Vegas.

“We have an amazing amount of people that have been with us for a lot of years,” Johnson says. “They are all backed by my father’s passion and are very loyal to the business.”

Johnson announced plans in early August to move the original flagship location into a smaller building across the street at the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Indianola Avenue next year. “At first we were thinking about remodeling,” she says. “But we would’ve had to close the restaurant and it would’ve taken two years. We started looking at new real estate in a more strategic fashion. We wanted smaller stores.”

Though Macayo’s is looking toward the future with the move, nostalgia will continue to thrive in the new location. There are plans in place to reuse the carved wooden doors and the neon Macayo’s sign that made the restaurant an icon.
Macayo’s will remain open at its current location through 2016 and transition across the street during the first quarter of 2017.

– Austen Browne